EL DORADO — To combat negative lunch account balances, the El Dorado School District has implemented an “alternate meal plan” that includes either cheese toast or cheese sandwich, canned fruit and milk.
Breakfast costs 80 cents and lunch costs $1.90. Students who qualified for reduced prices pay 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch, Superintendent Jim Tucker said.
“Just like other districts in our area we have a charge policy. Since we understand that families at times cannot pay, we have allowed charges. We send notices home to parents reminding them what they owe,” he said. “The district currently has over $13,000 worth of meals charged and the district cannot afford to continue that indefinitely.”
In a letter attributed to Northwest Academy cafeteria manager, Tanya Vines, and principal, Sherry Floss, administrators said, “…the El Dorado School District will now implement an alternate meal plan for all lunch accounts that owe over $20 until (the) balance is paid.”
Tucker said students who don’t qualify for free lunch and have an overdue balance over $25 would be given the alternative meals in a sensitive and discreet manner.
“The El Dorado School District goes above and beyond to make sure students’ needs are taken care of … A child will never be denied a meal in the El Dorado School District,” he said. “We have wonderful teachers and administrators who often pay for students’ meals out their own pocket, but they can not afford to do that forever.”
Parents can contact their children’s school and work with the district’s Food Services Department to develop a payment plan, he said.
“We are asking the parents who owe to either pay on their balance or … set up a payment plan,” Tucker said. “The district offers an online payment method, www.MyPaymentsPlus.com, for all students. Parents can use this system to pay on their child’s account and check their balance.”
The district superintendent said that he acknowledges that a family’s financial situation may change during the school year.
“For any parent who is having a difficult time and reaches out to us, we do all we can to help that parent or family,” he said. “If this family didn’t qualify for Free or Reduced price meals before, they may now qualify because of this change. All they have to do is contact their school or the Food Service Department to get an application … We are very willing to assist parents and families to best meet the needs of our students.”
There are programs that allow school districts to provide free meals for their students, he said.
According to the Arkansas State Board, to be eligible for a Community Eligibility Provision, 40 percent of the students must qualify for free meals in the year prior to implementing it and the district must agree to serve free lunches and breakfasts to all students, not collect free and reduced price applications and agree to cover any costs of providing free meals to all students above amounts provided in Federal assistance with non-Federal funds.
“Unfortunately our district does not qualify for that program at this time. It is something that we will continue to explore each year,” Tucker said.
Area schools that have a meal charge policy or alternate meal policy, in addition to El Dorado, include Magnolia, Parkers Chapel, Smackover-Norphlet and Strong, Tucker said.
Parents can contact the district’s Food Services director Estelle Fox at 870-864-5134 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brittany Williams may be contacted by email at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook @BWilliamsEDNT for updates on Union County school news.